Heart Attack (Acute Myocardial Infarction)

Heart disease is the number-one killer of Americans—both men and women. A heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs when an area of heart muscle dies or is permanently damaged because of an inadequate supply of oxygen to that area. The clot usually forms in a coronary artery that has been previously narrowed from changes related to atherosclerosis.

A heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs when a blood clot blocks one of the heart’s blood vessels and the heart muscle can not get the oxygen it needs to function. Part of the heart muscle may die or be damaged; sometimes the heart fails, causing death. A heart attack can be sudden, painful and easy to identify or be so subtle that you do not know you have had one.

Women are less likely than men to call for help when they are having a heart attack, thinking they may have indigestion or another ailment, which is one reason so many women die from heart attacks. Often, women experience symptoms at night, decide to wait until morning, and thus wait too late. Getting to the hospital fast allows use of clot-busting drugs that can stop or reduce a heart attack. For these to work, you must receive them within six hours after your symptoms start.

Heart Attack Symptoms

Call 911 if you experience any or all of these heart attack symptoms.

  • Chest pain. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, tightness or pain.

  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

  • Shortness of breath. This feeling often comes along with chest discomfort, but it can occur before the chest discomfort starts.

  • Other signs: Anxiety, Cough, Fainting, breaking out in a cold sweat, Nausea, Light-headedness, or dizziness

  • Less common signs may include seizures, fatigue, difficulty breathing when lying down or low blood pressure.

Heart Attack Treatment

Treatment may include intensive care. Continuous ECG monitoring is started immediately, because life-threatening arrhythmias are the leading cause of death in the first few hours of a heart attack. Surgery such as angioplasty or the placement of a stent may be necessary.

Your doctor will prescribe medications for you, which may even include aspirin.

After a heart attack, follow-up care is important to reduce the risk of having a second heart attack. Often, a cardiovascular and pulmonary rehabilitation program will be available. You should follow your doctor’s instructions for exercise, medications and diet very carefully.

Heart Attack Prevention

Your best heart attack prevention is by eating healthy, exercising often, avoiding smoking and controlling such things as cholesterol and blood pressure. Controlling Diabetes and also losing weight will help prevent heart attack.

Knowing your increased risks will help you control them and prevent further complications.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease

  • Increasing Age
  • Male
  • Family History
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Lack of Regular Exercise
  • Overweight
  • Unhealthy cholesterol levels, especially high LDL ("bad") cholesterol and low HDL ("good") cholesterol
  • Chronic kidney disease

A heart attack is a medical emergency. If you have symptoms of a heart attack, seek immediate medical help. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. DO NOT try to drive yourself to the hospital. DO NOT DELAY, because you are at greatest risk of sudden cardiac death in the early hours of a heart attack.

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and listen to your chest using a stethoscope. The doctor may hear abnormal sounds in your lungs (called crackles), a heart murmur, or other abnormal sounds.

You may have a rapid pulse. Your blood pressure may be normal, high, or low.

Tests to look at your heart include:

  • Coronary angiography
  • CT scan
  • Echocardiography
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) -- once or repeated over several hours
  • MRI
  • Nuclear ventriculography

Blood tests can help show if you have heart tissue damage or a high risk for heart attack. These tests include:

  • Troponin I and troponin T
  • CPK and CPK-MB
  • Serum myoglobin

To schedule a screening or make an appointment with a doctor, call 865.305.6970